President Obama is drawing a mixed response from industry to his recent call for tighter fuel-efficiency standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks.
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Speaking last week at a Safeway distribution center in Maryland, the President ordered the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation to draft a new round of standards by March of 2015, to take effect one year later. Immediate reactions ranged from enthusiastic to harsh criticism from truck owner-operators.
The rules would apply to vehicles with model years of 2018 and beyond. A first round of standards, covering trucks manufactured between 2014 and 2018, was finalized in 2011. It is projected to save 530 million barrels of oil, cut greenhouse gas emissions by some 270 million metric tons, and save operators $50 billion in fuel costs over the lives of their vehicles.
The President will leave it up to EPA and DOT to specify a new target for fuel efficiency. He called on government agencies to work with industry on developing new technologies for meeting whatever standard might emerge. Examples cited by the White House include improvements in engine efficiency, aerodynamics, truck weight and tire-rolling resistance. In addition, manufacturers could deploy new systems for automatic engine shutdown, more efficient air conditioning and hybrid power.
Obama made it clear that trucks are a major target of his larger plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Heavy-duty trucks, defined as having a gross vehicle weight exceeding 26,000 pounds, make up just 4 percent of all vehicles on American highways. Yet they are responsible for 20 percent of the carbon pollution produced by the nation’s transportation sector, he said.
Environmental interests applauded the President’s speech. “We thought it was good to get a timeline,” said Jason Mathers, senior manager with the Environmental Defense Fund.”We’re very excited to see the President take the leadership role.”
Heavy-duty trucks are the fastest-growing source of end-user emissions, Mathers claimed. He cited a projection by the U.S. Energy Information Administration that emissions from freight trucks will increase from their current level of 355 million metric tons to 500 million mt by 2040. Most of the pollution will come from tractor-trailer combinations, which account for 80 percent of the fuel used in the heavy-duty segment of the truck market.
That number assumes no further action being taken to reduce truck emissions. Obama’s second round of efficiency standards promises to change that course. “What’s really exciting about these rules is that they have the potential, not only to keep this growth of emissions from happening, but to actually start bringing emissions down,” Mathers said.
Truckers, many of whom operate on extremely thin margins, spent billions of dollars conforming to the first wave of standards. Obama, however, insisted that the money was well spent. The operator of a new 2018 semi truck will recoup the cost of technology upgrades in less than a year, the White House claimed. In addition, it said, lower fuel costs will result in a net savings of $73,000 over the vehicle’s life.
Mathers estimated that the first generation of rules will save shippers around 9 cents a mile in freight costs. Fuel accounts for 40 percent of the cost of moving a truck, he said.
That the President’s message was endorsed by an environmental group should come as no surprise. But major trucking interests appear to be on board as well. Engine manufacturer Cummins Inc. and truck maker Peterbilt Motors Co. (part of PACCAR) have embraced the U.S. Department of Energy’s SuperTruck program, launched to improve the efficiency of the heaviest trucks on the road. A joint demonstration last month by the two companies showed off a tractor-trailer that got 10.7 miles to the gallon in real-world driving conditions. Most heavy trucks today get around 6 MPG.
The new standards also drew support from less-than-truckload carrier Con-way Inc., trailer manufacturer carrier Wabash National Corp., UPS and FedEx. Major shippers backing the President’s policy included both The Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo, Inc.
Not everyone was so supportive. The American Trucking Associations, while endorsing the goal of improving the fuel efficiency of big trucks, urged the Administration to “proceed cautiously” with the new standards.
ATA strongly supported the first set of rules in 2011, said president and chief executive officer Bill Graves. Now, he hopes the Administration “will set forth on a path that is both based on the best science and research available, and [is] economically achievable.”
ATA chairman Phil Byrd, who is also president of South Carolina-based Bulldog Hiway Express, said in a statement that the White House should keep in mind the trucking industry’s diversity. “Whatever tests are devised should accurately reflect what drivers face on the roads every day,” he said.
Perhaps the most outright statement of opposition came from the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which said the new standards could make it economically impossible for many professional drivers to afford trucks.
“Shock and awe may be the best way to describe what’s happening to the vast majority in trucking with these proposed regulations,” said OOIDA executive vice president Todd Spencer. An increasing number of truckers “are being squeezed out of the option to buy new equipment, because of ever-increasing prices due to government requirements that are long on promises but way short on performance,” he said.